Abstract: This paper aims to understand the infighting dynamics within rebel factions during the Syrian conflict, to underline their inherent causes, and to identify patterns in these dynamics. This paper relies on empirical data from 40 infighting incidents between 2012–2017 to explain the phenomenon. It assumes that faction leaders are rational actors motivated by their perception of opportunities and threats, and that their assessment of costs and benefits dictate when, how, and where they will attack their rivals.
This paper identifies three types of infighting: bids for hegemony, expulsions of future threats, and dealing with existential threats. The paper measures the impact of time, available resources, and the level of external threats on the motives behind initiating an attack against a direct rival as well as the successes of mediating efforts. Empirical data confirms the rational behavior of faction leaders in their decision-making processes behind initiating an attack, and demonstrates how conflicts of interests trump other differences in motivating attacks.
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The involvement of countries such as Turkey, and potentially Russia and Iran, is likely to widen existing fractures within the GCC and weaken the web of partnerships with Western states that have formed the cornerstone of the post-1991 Gulf security architecture.